Abraham in History and Tradition Part II: Abraham the Prince -- By: Donald J. Wiseman

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 134:535 (Jul 1977)
Article: Abraham in History and Tradition Part II: Abraham the Prince
Author: Donald J. Wiseman


Abraham in History and Tradition
Part II:
Abraham the Prince

Donald J. Wiseman

[Donald J. Wiseman, Professor of Assyriology, University of London, London, England.]

In the previous article in this series it was suggested that Abraham’s designation as “the Hebrew” marked him not as a semi-nomad, but as a resident-alien (גּר) newly arrived in the land, who took active and public steps to take possession of land granted him by divine covenant-promise.1 He was in effect taking over “by faith” the area known later as Judah.2

Abraham as a Political Leader

This leads to a study of his ascription as “Abraham the prince” (Gen 23:5, AV) or the נשׂיא, a title given by a group of foreigners living among the Canaanites who also held land rights in the same region de facto.3 This was after Abraham had lived in the area for sixty-two years (cf. Gen 12:4; 17:17; 23:1) when the “sons of Heth” (Hittites) under Ephron who owned the field and cave of Macpelah in a district of Canaan treated Abraham with respect as the head of a clan residing as their neighbors.

“We look on you as a mighty leader (נשׂיא אוֹּהים) among us” (Gen 23:6), they said, and there is no hint that Abraham’s dealings with them were unexpected, insincere, or contrary to accepted local

custom. Whether this phrase is taken as a superlative4 or as an acknowledgement of his affiliation to God (“a נשׂיא of God”) by men of another religion,5 the use of the term נשׂיא clearly denotes a position of dignity and leadership.6 It is similarly used in early texts of the chiefs of the Midianites (Josh 13:21; Num 25:18) and Shechem (Gen 34:2), which, with Edom, were all tribes involved in the promise made to Abraham (17:4–8 }). The title is later applied to DavidYou must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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